Friday, April 10

USAC gives surplus allocated for initiatives back to student groups

The undergraduate student government gave back about $78,500 in surplus funds Tuesday after more than 100 students protested the council’s allocations at its meeting.

Last week, the Undergraduate Students Association Council allocated more than half of its remaining surplus to fund councilmember initiatives – a decision that significantly cut some student group programming funds.

“It’s all about priorities. Last week you gave the impression that your priorities were more important than students,” USAC administrative representative Debra Geller said at the meeting. “You knew this money wouldn’t be going to students.”

Following the council’s Tuesday decision to reverse its allocations, the money is set to return to USAC funds that support student programming. The money will be taken from councilmember initiatives, including a safety app, registration fees for the United States Student Association, the Jazz Reggae Festival and the Jack Benny and Spencer Tracy Awards.

This year’s surplus was about $232,000, an almost 40 percent drop from last year’s. Surplus funds are money carried over from one council to the next.

At the meeting, councilmembers discussed how to respond to student group concerns for more than two hours.

USAC President John Joanino persistently encouraged the council to reverse its decision and give the money back to student groups during council discussions.

At the last USAC meeting, councilmembers did not thoroughly discuss the effect of their allocations on student groups, though USAC Finance Committee Chair Cynthia Jasso brought up the issue multiple times.

In fall, councilmembers allocated $80,000 of surplus to fund the Student of Color Conference and Bruin Bash, leaving about $152,000 left for USAC to distribute at its meeting on Jan. 7.

Of the remaining $152,000, councilmembers chose to give more than half to fund councilmember initiatives, leavingabout $73,500 for three USAC funds that support student group initiatives.

The funds saw a large impact partially because they had grown so dependent on surplus funds.

In response to the budget cuts, some students groups chose to attend the meeting, where dozens of students asked the council to reverse its previous votes.

Several members of the Vietnamese Student Union called for councilmembers to overturn their surplus allocation decisions. They said funding cuts jeopardized their ability to put on a Vietnamese Culture Night, an annual event that has existed for decades.

“We try to keep it within staff, but it’s often hard to make events happen,” said Hoang Vuong, fiscal coordinator for the Vietnamese Student Union and a fourth-year molecular, cell and developmental biology student.

Vuong said USAC funds for Vietnamese Culture Night dropped by about $3,500 this year. The culture night is still set to take place Monday, but group members hadto scramble for funding from outside sources.

Teri Nguyen, culture coordinator for the Vietnamese Student Union and a third-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student, said she is worried about future cultural events that may not be able to find funding in time.

Other cultural student groups expressed disappointment in USAC’s decision and asked for its reversal.

Victoria Chen, president of the UCLA Association of Chinese Americans and a third-year global studies student, said she thinks budget cuts have grown worse every year, and finding money to run the group’s cultural events has become increasingly difficult.

“We are running out of places to go for help,” she said.

Peter Wang, a producer for the Chinese American Culture Night, said he thinks the show of students at Tuesday’s meeting sets a precedent for other councils to be more hesitant about the way they spend surplus funds.

The third-year business economics student said he thinks USAC wrongly chose to prioritize councilmember initiatives over student group programming.

“If students have to scrounge for funds, we should have to hold ourselves to the same standard,” said USAC Student Wellness Commissioner Savannah Badalich.

James Xu, a member of the Association of Chinese Americans and fourth-year math economics student, said he showed up to the meeting to hold the council accountable for cuts in student group funding that resulted from councilmember decisions, such as raising councilmember stipends.

Without the support of surplus money, funding for some councilmember initiatives are now in jeopardy and may have to be obtained through outside sources.

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